203 THE GAY GENIUS
longing and fond regret, soft and plaintive with diminuendos that
gradually disappear into the thin air. The melody is so sad that a
widow sitting in another boat begins to weep, and even the fish in the
water are moved*
Overcome by the music, Su asks his friend why the music is so sad.
His friend tells him: "Don't you remember what happened on th*f
river below the Red Cliff?" A thousand years before, a historic naval
battle had taken place here, deciding the fate of the Three Kingdoms.
Could Su Tungpo not imagine the great fleet of Tsao Tsao, its masts
resembling a forest, sailing down the river from Kiangling? He, too,
was a poet. Did Su not remember the song that Tsao Tsao wrote on
this occasion about the magpie flying south under a moonlit sky?
"But where are these great warriors of the past? Tonight you and I
are sitting here in a tiny boat, just two carefree wandering vagabonds
enjoying a short happy moment over a cup of wine. We are no biggejj,
than a gnat in the universe or a grain of corn in the vast ocean. Olir
life is brief and evanescent, while I envy the eternity of time like the
unending flow of this great river. I would like to fly up to heaven, my
arms supported by two angels, and ascend to the moon, to live for ever
there. But I realise that this can never be, and therefore have I con-
fided my sorrow tp the song of the flute."
Su Tungpo begins to comfort his friend and says to him: "Look at
this water and this moon! The water passes continually by, and yet it
is always here. The moon waxes and wanes but it always remains the
same moon. If you look at the changes that take place in the universe^
there is nothing in it that lasts more than a fraction of a second. B||
if you look at the unchanging aspect of things, then you realise that
both the things and ourselves are immortal. Why should you envy this
river? Besides, everything in this life has its proper owner; there is no
use trying to take what does not properly belong to us. But this clean
breeze over the river and this clear moon over the mountain-tops are
for everybody to enjoy. This life and this sensuous existence are here;
they strike our eyes and become colour, strike our ears and become
sounds—truly a boundless treasure, the inexhaustible gift of the
Creator, a feast for us to enjoy, free and costless."
Upon hearing this, his friend begins to smile. They wash the cui
and dishes and begin to eat again. Without clearing the dishes fro
the table, they stretch themselves and fall asleep, unaware that dawn
breaking in the east.
Three months later, in the tenth moon, Su Tungpo wrote another
sketch. It is a full moon again and Su Tungpo strolls* out from the
Saow Hall with two of his friends towards the Linkao House. They
pass the Yellow Mud Flat on the way. The ground is already white
with frost and the trees are bare. They can see their own shadows on